Ken Schalk Interview

7/13/11
Ken Schalk was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for www.kindbeatsdrums.com, so without further ado, meet the monster behind the bands Candiria and Fuel!

KBD: Tons of drummers think that you need a massive drum kit in order to be a metal drummer, but you actually played on a four piece kit while playing in Candiria.  What made you choose to use such a minimalist approach?

KS: THIS CAN BE A VERY LONG ANSWER IF I ENTER INTO THE DEBATABLE ASPECTS OF THE TOPIC. I’M NOT TRYING TO BE POLITICALLY CORRECT HERE. ALTHOUGH I PLAYED A 4 PIECE KIT IN A METAL BAND, IT DOESN’T DISCREDIT THE OTHER PLAYER THAT USES AN 8 PIECE KIT WITH A BUNCH OF CYMBALS. I BELIEVE THAT IF THERE’S A PURPOSE FOR MORE OR EVEN A DESIRE FOR MORE AND IT’S USED TASTEFULLY, THEN THERE’S NO CONTROVERSY.

KBD: Who are some drummers that inspired you when you started playing and who are some drummers that are currently inspiring you?

KS: I WAS INSPIRED AND AM STILL INSPIRED BY ALL DRUMMERS. WHEN I STARTED PLAYING DRUMS, I JUST TOOK IT IN FROM ALL THE DRUMMERS I HEARD AND STILL DO THIS TODAY. BUT LIFE AROUND ME IS RHYTHM AND I NEVER LIMIT MY PERCUSSIVE OR MUSICAL INSPIRATION TO ONLY A HUMAN SOURCE. THERE ARE SO MANY RHYTHMIC ARRANGEMENTS UNFOLDING NATURALLY AROUND ME. AS DRUMMERS WE JUST NEED TO BE ATTENTIVE TO IT AND TRANSCEND INTO IT. OTHER MUSICIANS CAN BE VERY INSPIRING AS WELL. MUSICALLY SPEAKING, MELODY IS NOTHING MORE THAN RHYTHM WITH MUSICAL NOTES SO HEARING A COOL MELODY CAN BE JUST AS POWERFUL A RHYTHM. SOLOISTS WITH GREAT PHRASING CAN BE VERY INSPIRATIONAL FOR RHYTHMIC PATTERNS AS WELL.

KBD: You play other instruments besides drums and percussion, such as the keys and trumpet.  How has playing these instruments influenced your drumming?

KS: AH I MISS TRUMPET BUT I WAS INDEED GRATEFUL TO HAVE THAT SHORT EXPERIENCE. CURRENTLY, MY SECOND INSTRUMENT IS DEFINITELY PIANO AND KEYBOARD/SYNTHS. I CAN STILL PLAY A BUNCH OF OTHER INSTRUMENTS BUT I DON’T PUT ANY FURTHER EFFORT INTO HAVING A CONFIDENCE OVER THEM. I’M VERY SATISFIED BEING A DRUMMER FIRST AND HAVING PIANO/KEYBOARD AS MY SECOND INSTRUMENT. FOCUSING ON ANYTHING MORE WOULD BE TOO MUCH FOR NO GOOD REASON.
WHAT IS IMPORTANT FOR ME ABOUT PLAYING SO MANY INSTRUMENTS IS, AS A SONG WRITER, WHEN I’M INVOLVED WITH MORE COMPLEX ARRANGEMENTS, IT’S VITAL TO KNOW IF THE INSTRUMENTS I’M INCLUDING CAN ACTUALLY PLAY THE PARTS I’M WRITING. TALENT IS ONE THING BUT THE PERSONALITY AND MAKE UP OF EACH INSTRUMENT OFFERS UNIQUENESS AND LIMITATIONS THAT I NEED TO BE AWARE OF, SO THE MUSIC AND PLAYABILITY FOR THE OTHER MUSICIANS IS NEVER QUESTIONED WHEN IT’S TIME TO TRACK IT.

KBD: Your drumming in Candiria was absolutely phenomenal.  You have an incredibly unique way of phrasing things and I think it really drives the music.  Is there a specific method to your madness when you’re writing drum parts?

KS: WELL THANK YOU FOR THE KIND WORDS. I’M GRATEFUL FOR THE EXPERIENCE OF CANDIRIA. HELPING CREATE THAT BAND AND INVESTING THE LOVE AND PASSION WE HAD INTO IT WAS AN AMAZING JOURNEY THAT STILL FLOWS WITH US TODAY. I GUESS IF THERE WAS ONE CORE CONCEPT, IT WAS TO BE AS UNIQUE AS POSSIBLE BUT BE SIMPLE WHEN NECESSARY. WE HAD AN INNUMERABLE AMOUNT OF METHODS FOR MESSING WITH RHYTHM. (SEE MY ANSWER TO QUESTION 2) ALL THE BAND MEMBERS CONTRIBUTED TO MAKING OUR TUNES THE RHYTHMIC EXPLORATIONS THEY WERE AS WELL. IT WASN’T JUST ME BUT 5 GUYS TRYING TO TRICK OUT MUSIC; LOTS OF IDEAS, ALL THE TIME.

KBD: How often do you practice and what’s a regular practice session for Ken Schalk like?

KS: THESE DAYS I’M NOT PRACTICING MUCH. THAT’S NOT BECAUSE I DON’T NEED IT. I HAVE PLENTY OF IDEAS I’D LOVE TO BE ABLE TO WORK ON. BUT WHERE MY MUSICAL CAREER IS RIGHT NOW, PRACTICE SESSIONS ARE PREPARATION FOR A SESSION OR GIG IF NEED BE. WHEN MY CAREER GETS ME TO A POINT WHERE I CAN AFFORD TO HAVE A PLACE TO STORE AND PLAY MY DRUMS AGAIN, A PRACTICE ROUTINE WILL BE INCORPORATED.

GENERALLY WHAT MY PRACTICE ROUTINE IS, IS A HALF HOUR TO 45 MINUTES OF SLOW WARM UP WITH HANDS AND FEET ON JUST SNARE AND KICK, STARTING WITH JUST SNARE FOR ABOUT THE FIRST 10-15 MINUTES. THE WARM UP MOVES NATURALLY AND IS ALL IMPROVISED WITH NO BREAKS. BY THE TIME I’M A HALF HOUR IN, I’M PUSHING TEMPO UP AND ALSO DOING SPURTS OF VERY FAST TEMPO. I ALSO MESS WITH ALL LEVELS OF DYNAMICS FROM REALLY SOFT TO REALLY HARD HITTING FOR FEET AND HANDS. AFTER THAT, I’LL TAKE A SMALL BREAK AND THEN FIDDLE AROUND THE KIT WITH SOME JAZZ AND JAZZ SOLOING. I’LL WORK ON ANY STOCK BEATS I FEEL I MIGHT BE SLACKING ON JUST TO KEEP UP (BEING A SESSION DRUMMER, IT’S VERY IMPORTANT TO HAVE A GOOD LIBRARY OF VARIOUS BEATS THAT ARE ALWAYS READY TO GO).THEN I MIGHT WORK ON SOME NEW IDEAS IF I’M FEELING INSPIRED TO BUT IF NOT I NEVER FORCE MYSELF. I ALSO HAVE LITTLE DRUM PARTS THAT I GO BACK TO AND TRY TO WORK ON. AND OF COURSE, IF I HAVE ANY OF MY OWN MUSIC I’M WORKING ON, I CAN WORK ON THOSE DRUM PARTS.

KBD: You’re currently playing drums for Fuel.  How did that come about and what are some noteable differences between playing in Candiria and Fuel?

KS: I MET BRETT SCALLIONS, THE SINGER, THROUGH A PRODUCER FRIEND OF MINE THAT HAD ME WORK ON BRETT’S SIDE PROJECT CALLED WORLD FIRE BRIGADE. AFTER HITTING IT OFF WITH BRETT AND GIVING HIM SOME KILLER DRUM TRACKS, HE ASKED IF I WOULD JOIN HIM IN BRINGING FUEL BACK TO LIFE AND I WAS DOWN. THERE’S TWO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE BANDS:
1 – THE LEVEL OF FOCUS ON EXECUTION I NEEDED FOR CANDIRIA WAS OBVIOUSLY GREATER THAN WITH FUEL. ALTHOUGH I HAD TRAINED ALMOST EVERYTHING INTO MUSCLE MEMORY, THERE WERE DEFINITELY SOME VITAL SECTIONS THAT DEMANDED MY FOCUS AND ABILITY TO COUNT AND PLAY.
2 – BUT WITH FUEL, I GET TO BE A MUCH MORE DYNAMIC DRUMMER THAN WITH CANDIRIA, WHICH I REALLY ENJOY.

KBD: What are some of your favorite songs to play live from both bands?

KS: EVERY SONG FROM FUEL AND CANDIRIA THAT WE PICK TO PLAY LIVE IS A BLAST FOR ME. I DON’T HAVE FAVORITES.

KBD: In 2002, you were involved in a serious tractor trailer accident while on tour with Candira, which affected everyone in the band.  Did going through such a traumatic event change or influence your playing in any way?

KS: MY PLAYING GROWS NATURALLY FROM ALL OF LIFE’S EXPERIENCES SO HOW I APPROACH DRUMMING MAY HAVE BEEN MILDLY INFLUENCED BUT I CAN’T TELL. IT’S JUST ANOTHER PART OF MY LIFE. THANK GOD I WANS’T PHYSICALLY SET BACK AS A DRUMMER. MY BODY IS HEALED TO A LEVEL THAT ALLOWS ME TO PLAY DRUMS TO THE FULLEST CAPACITY I DID BEFORE THE ACCIDENT.

KBD: You definitely have an experimental side as seen with such projects as Ghosts of the Canal.  Where do you find your inspiration for such projects?

KS: GHOSTS OF THE CANAL WAS THE NEXT STAGE OF A BAND I PLAYED BASS IN THROUGH THE EARLY TO MID NINETIES CALLED “ORANGE ELEVATION.” WE WENT THROUGH A ROTATION OF VARIOUS GUITARISTS IN THE MID TO LATE NINETIES AND THEN JOHN FROM CANDIRIA STEPPED IN FOR A SESSION. FROM THERE, IT INSPIRED THE IDEA FOR ME TO GO TO KEYS AND SYNTH AND BRING MIKE FROM CANDIRIA IN ON BASS. A FRIEND OF MINE, WHO WOUND UP RELEASING THE FIRST CD, NAMED US GHOSTS OF THE CANAL. SO ALL THE INSPIRATION WAS PART OF A VERY NATURAL FLOW OF MUSICIANS AND EVENTS.

AS FOR ANY OTHER PROJECTS I’M A PART OF OR CREATE, IT’S ALL ONE BIG JOURNEY FOR ME. I LOVE BEING DYNAMIC AND DIVERSE SO THE MORE OPPORTUNITIES THERE ARE FOR THAT, THE MORE INSPIRATION I GET.

KBD: Do you have any personal favorite styles of music to play?

KS: JAZZ, SOUL/R&B, GOSPEL, REGGAE

KBD: As we all know, even the greatest musicians haven’t mastered everything.  Are there any particular things that you are currently trying to improve in your drumming?

KS: I’M ALWAYS LISTENING TO MUSIC SO I CAN BECOME MORE AND MORE SENSITIVE TO THE SONG AROUND ME. DRUMBEATS ARE IN THE SONG, AND THE DRUMMER HAS TO SENSE THAT TO BE FULLY EFFECTIVE. I LOVE HEARING THE SONG AND THEN HEARING THE DRUMBEAT COME OUT OF THE SONG. OBVIOUSLY FOR MORE “DRUM FOCUSED” MUSIC, THERE’S A DIFFERENT AUDIENCE TO CONSIDER AND CRAFTY DRUM BEATS AS WELL AS CRAFTY MUSIC BECOMES A GREATER FOCUS BUT OUTSIDE OF THAT, DRUMBEATS HAVE TO BE SO DOPE THAT YOU DON’T LISTEN TO THEM, BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO BUSY MOVING TO THEM.

KBD: Have you ever studied with anyone in the past and do you currently study with anyone?

KS: I HAD ONE DRUM TEACHER FROM WHEN I WAS 15-17. HE WAS AMAZING. HIS NAME IS PETE PIZZI AND ALTHOUGH HE WAS A DOPE DRUMMER, HE WAS ALSO VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT MANY FACETS OF THE MUSIC BUSINESS. HE WAS ABLE TO ANSWER SO MANY QUESTIONS I HAD AND HELPED FEED ME KNOWLEDGE AND WISDOM AT A YOUNG AGE.
OUTSIDE OF THAT, SO MANY DRUMMERS AND MUSICIANS, ALONG WITH LISTENING TO MUSIC AND LIFE, HAS GIVEN ME SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING OF RHYTHM AND MUSIC.

KBD: Is there any style of music that you would like to try and wet your feet in that you haven’t done so already?

KS: MY FEET HAVE BEEN IN ALL WATERS. ONE POOL I’D LIKE TO DIVE INTO ONE DAY WITH A LITTLE MORE TIME WOULD BE AFRO-CUBAN. I LOVE THE FEEL OF THAT FUSION AND WOULD LOVE TO GET DOWN MORE WITH IT. I GUESS THAT ALL DEPENDS ON THAT PERSONAL PRACTICE SPACE I’M PRAYING FOR.

KBD: Thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your experience with all of us here at www.kindbeatsdrums.com and we look forward to your next project!

KS: THANKS FOR THE QUESTIONS. I REALLY DO APPRECIATE YOU HAVING ME BE A PART OF YOUR WEBSITE!

For more info on Ken and his projects, check out www.kenschalk.com!